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Category: Books

Why I love Tom Bombadil

Why I love Tom Bombadil: He sings and he walks through nature and he’s connected to where he is and who he is and he welcomes travelers and he’s kind to the person he lives with and when people need him he shows up for them. Plus all his dialogue is in metered lines. He’s the bomb*.


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Reading Shion Miura

This morning I sat in my van outside work crying the good kind of tears – the tears brought out by a gorgeous novel. I can count on one hand the books that have made me cry. This morning’s offering was The Great Passage, a novel by Japanese author Shion Miura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. It’s the third novel by the pair I’ve read in the last week, and each has been a gem of humanity and compassion and insight.

The Great Passage is about a small team of people putting together a new Japanese dictionary. The book takes place over the course of 15 years and follows the ups and down in the lives of the team members, primarily centered around Majime, the head of the dictionary department. Does that sound like the description of a book that could bring you to tears? But there’s something about the way Miura find the souls of her characters. The writing is never overwrought. It’s simple and beautiful, allowing the actions and words of the humans in the stories to carry the weight.

My introduction to Miura came about a week ago, when a website randomly recommended her book The Easy Life In Kamusari. I’d never heard of Miura or the novel, but for some reason I decided to read it. It’s the story of a high school student from Yokohama (where I once lived) who, upon graduation, gets sent by his parents to the countryside to work for a small forestry company. He doesn’t want to be there and knows nothing about the work, but over time he’s won over by the quiet beauty of the area and its people.

I then read the sequel, Kamusari Tales Told At Night, a series of vignettes told by the same character about the deepening of his relationship with the remote mountain area in which he finds himself, and the mystical beliefs of the people who live there.

I can’t recommend these books highly enough. Miura is brilliant, and Carpenter’s translations are masterful. In particular, her work in The Great Passage is so impressive, being as it’s a book about the Japanese language and Carpenter must make it intelligible to English-language readers while retaining the under-the-microscope look at Japanese that is the hallmark of the book. Quite the achievement.

Find yourself a copy of one of these and slip into a world of small details and real human emotions.  

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Arboreal coinkydink

This week I read this short, wonderful book called The Easy Life In Kamusari by Shion Miura. I read a translated version. It’s about a city kid who graduates from high school in Yokohama, and his parents then ship him off to work for a forestry company in a remote area. A kind of tree called a Zelkova tree plays a role in the book. I’d never heard of that kind of tree. Today I used an app to identify the kind of tree beside which I park each night. Of course it’s a Japanese Zelkova tree.

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Books I’ve read so far this year

(As of 12 May 2022)

1. Without Fail by Lee Child
2. Persuader by Lee Child
3. A Call For The Dead by John Le Carré
4. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
5. Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
6. The Enemy by Lee Child
7. One Shot by Lee Child
8. The Hard Way by Lee Child
9. Humble Pi by Matt Parker
10. Into The Light by Charles Soule
11. The Great Jedi Rescue by Cavan Scort
12. Into The Dark by Claudia Gray
13. A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland
14. Marvel’s The High Republic Vol. 1 by Cavan Scott
15. IDW’s High Republic Adventures Vol. 1 by Daniel Jose Older
16. The Monster of Temple Peak by Cavan Scott
17. The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott
18. Race To Crashpoint Tower by Daniel Jose Older
19. Showdown At The Fair by George Mason
20. Marvel’s High Republic Vol. 2 by Cavan Scott
21. IDW’s High Republic Adventures comic Vol. 2 by Daniel Jose Older
22. Marvel’s Trail of Shadows by Daniel Jose Older
23. Out Of The Shadows by Justina Ireland
24. Tempest Runner by Cavan Scott
25. The Edge of Balance by Shima Shinya and Justina Ireland
26. The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray
27. Midnight Horizon by Daniel Jose Older
28. Mission To Disaster by Justina Ireland
29. A Really Big Lunch by Jim Harrison
30. Bicycling With Butterflies by Sara Dykman
31. The Great Post Office Scandal by Nick Wallis
32. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
33. Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray
34. Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
35. The Easy Life In Kamusari by Shion Miura

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haiku: 11 May 2022

at certain times in my life
all the books and songs
were written for me

/ / /

11 May 2022
Pittsfield MA

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POEM: 42

thanks for not suing me
for stealing most of my personality
from your writing
I was young & impressionable &
I already liked radio comedy
so you can see how I might decide
that a bathrobe & a fish were good ideas

/ / /

24 April 2021
Musser Gap Trailhead
for Douglas Adams

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haiku: 24 December 2020

warm tea inside me:
“Let’s all go to Narnia!”
(rain drums on the roof)

/ / /

24 December 2020
State College PA

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BOOK REVIEW: Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind by Maura Soshin O’Halloran

I came across this book at Bookmans in Tucson during our apartment-hunting trip a couple weeks ago. I’d never heard of the book or of Soshin O’Halloran, but I’m an admirer of books about the lives of Buddhist monastics and other practitioners. Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind is a collection of diary entries and letters published after O’Halloran’s death in a car accident at the age of 27. She was on a tour of Asia following three years as a Buddhist nun in Japan. It’s a lovely book; honest and forthright and brimming with zeal for her newfound Buddhist practice. At times the focus on kensho (englightenment) was a little much for me, but that’s because the flavor of Buddhism I practice doesn’t emphasize that aspect of Zen to the extent that Soshin’s did. It’s a worthwhile book, made bittersweet in the knowledge that she died just weeks after receiving transmission and being given permission to teach.

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BOOK REVIEW: What We’re Fighting For Now Is Each Other by Wen Stephenson

This is easily one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. Multiple times throughout this story of the climate crisis and the people fighting it, I had to set the book down and process what it made me feel. By the end it was as if a fire had been lit in my chest; a flame fueled by rage, a need for justice, a sense of crisis, and an overwhelming feeling of love. We need this book, but more importantly, we need to follow the lessons contained within it. I’ve been an organizer, often professionally, for my entire adult life. I’ve spent most of that time doing labor and anti-war organizing. In recent years I’ve been feeling a need to shift the focus of both my organizing and my broadcasting/podcasting work. What We’re Fighting For Now Is Each Other helped me sharpen that focus and prepare for the next phase of my life’s work. Highly, highly recommended. You can follow Wen Stephenson on Twitter.

[I need to thank climate justice writer Mary Annaïse Heglar for introducing me to this book via this essay. You can also follow Mary on Twitter.]

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POEM: Moby-Dick in the break room

Moby-Dick in the break room

because otherwise it’s a round Formica table
& the clicks and beeps from the alarm system
& the vending machines
a slowly shrinking horizon of possibility
& the monstrous white shape of the future

I read to remember myself
(a boss walks by, says, “Call me Ishmael”)
Melville was in his late 20s & early 30s
as he was writing his Great(est?) American Novel
luckily Alan Rickman was 42 when he played Hans Gruber
so there’s hope for me yet


Jason Crane
4 November 2019
State College PA

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